The etiquette of laptops in meetings

Here's an article about working on your laptop during meetings. Since my team is remote, we admittedly spend time during meetings on the old laptop. You know, when the meeting takes a turn toward something not particularly relevant to you. It's hard not to do that when the meeting takes place in-person.

During meetings where I am presenting something, I am distracted by anyone on their laptop; I admit it. It's kind of hard not to take it personally. At the same time, there are only so many hours in a day and I have always had issues with being required to attend meetings that don't have any immediate consequences for myself or my team. I generally try to opt-out of those meetings as much as possible. Sometimes I'll come to the meeting without the laptop so I am not tempted (as if anything is SO important that it needs immediate attention). I think we would all feel a little more zen about this whole thing if we weren't being forced to decide what work gets done and what work doesn't get done. But we don't live in a world where you come to a finishing point at the end of the day with a clean desk. Remember when it was like that? Yeah, me neither.

I'm trying to force myself to be more present in meetings (I swear I just heard something on TV about being "present"...sounds like a good idea). If that means building in a little unproductive meeting time, then I guess that is what it means. Besides, I can always go to my happy place in my head if it gets really bad.

Comments (22)

  1. wine-oh says:

    at our last dept pow wow we set a goal not to bring laptops to meetings where it was unnecessary. That lasted 2 weeks. People space out in meetings where they are required and use the laptop to IM or do work. Yes its distracting to others to hear the typing. Especially if they are loud and furious typers. I try hard to not bring the laptop but then I look like the odd man out when everyone else brought theirs.  I think one learns something from the meeting when they dont have the laptop as they are forced to listen.

  2. Francesco says:

    At Chrysler, my senior manager recently made a decree that we were no longer allowed to bring laptops to meetings with customers (other Chrysler groups and suppliers that we design and support applications and systems for). Since non-technical/non-traveling employees don’t have laptops, only members of our team were using them during the meeting. Apparently the customers didn’t like it (I think they were just jelous, lol)

    I am divided on the subject because I love to stay productive during meetings and have no problem listening to the meeting and typing/working on something else in the background (a little skill I picked up from doing 7 years of debate – where you have to listen to what the competitor is saying while writing your next speech at the same time). We all also know that most of the meeting many of the participants are not required (why we schedule these big meetings covering multiple unrelated topics I will never understand, but everyone does it) so letting people work should be ok right? However, there are several people who can not get that balance right and are honestly just not paying any attention to what is going on at all which can be offensive/annoying to others in the meeting.

    In general, there is rarely something so important going on that it can’t wait until the end of an hour meeting (like a P1 system issue would result in you being paged anyways, so why do you need IM?), so I guess I can’t be that mad about it. Plus Heather is right, if it gets really really bad, just go to that happy place, lol.

  3. Bad_Brad says:

    My first job out of business school (way back in 2000) was for a Fortune 500 company that only owned one laptop for a finance department of ~50 people and you had to check it out with our Managing Director’s Admin to use it.

    My next company gave me my own laptop and made me fully aware that I was expected to take it home regularly and be plugged in to what was going on (of course this was in the operations world, and it was very much a 24/7 operation).

    At Microsoft, if you come to a meeting without your laptop today, people look at you funny.

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    wine-oh, I have also been at a meeting where I was the only one without a laptop. I HATE the clicky typing in meetings!

    Francesco – you are a better multi-tasker than I am. If I am typing on my laptop, I’m not listening. And I have been ambushed by the a "Heather what do you think?" when I have done this in the past. I guess being critical about whether you should pay attention is the key.

    Bad-Brad – one laptop for 50 people? Crazy! I was at an insurance company before Microsoft and I had my laptop for one day before it was stolen off my desk. Unbelievable! If I didn’t have a laptop, things would be very different! Working from home would be a big problem, I guess.

  5. William says:

    So the hilarious thing is that the link points to an article with Alberto Gonzales during Capital Hill hearings pictured behind the long table facing the camera (which would be towards the panel of congressman)… <bubble thought>  "Darnit, I wish I HAD brought my laptop with me"

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Cute. But if he brought his laptop, could he have claimed to not be able  to recall? Or perhaps that he was distracted by a Dilbert cartoon instead?

    Hey, I’m not getting partisan. He is the one who kept saying he couldn’t recall.

  7. As a blind person, I sometimes take a laptop or portable notetaking device with me to meetings.  If taking notes is required (or just a good idea) I do not consider it a violation of etiquette to use it during the meeting.  Others have their pen and paper; I sometimes rely on an electronic device to perform the same function.

  8. HeatherLeigh says:

    Darrell – that’s totally understandable.

  9. mrscrooge says:

    >when the meeting takes a turn toward something not particularly relevant to you

    What I do is once my part is done, I raise my hand and ask to be excused. It usually gets a few weird looks but come on, whats the point of sticking around if its clearly not relevant to me? Is that rude to leave?

  10. Earlier I used to think mobile is a major distraction during meetings. But now I am more convinced that having laptops in meetings brings the productivity to very low levels. Everyone tend to check their more often during meetings

    Browsing and IM are major distractors.. though electronic device is hip to be in meeting..but if there is a team task to be completed then it can waste more time…

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    mrscrooge – at least you ask. I sometimes get up and let them know I’m leaving. Obviously, iut depends on who is running the meeting and whether they are aware of the relative relevance to your role. I don’t think it’s rude.

    bhaskar – it can indeed.

  12. Pat says:

    The only way I can get my day to day work done is to clicky type in my copious meetings.  It is a concious choice I have made.  I usually have at minimum, 6 hours of meetings a day I can’t do everything in the remaining portion so I work during meetings.  

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    Pat – do you really have to go to that many meetgins? Jeez.

  14. patblue says:

    Yes- trust me, there is a fine art of meeting juggling in my world.  Usually it’s deciding WHICH of two meetings I am going to attend that are scheduled the same hour.  I do know that most folks say ‘choose your meetings wisely’, but in this world if you are not sitting in a meeting, you are missing out on content or decisions made that won’t make it to your ears.  I have learned to become very protective of my schedule, and also accept that I will be doing work in ‘most’ of the meetings I attend, or work late into the evening as an alternative to being present in a given meeting.

  15. HeatherLeigh says:

    hmm, different job than mine. I’m so fortunate to be able to work from home and have loads of flexibility built into my schedule.

  16. Craig Murphy says:

    Good post, interesting point.  FWIW, I have actually been an outsider in a Microsoft-led meeting where the two Microsoft employees who flanked me on my right and left were actually using IM between each other to control the meeting direction – they did this by asking the presenter very directed questions.  Each took it in turns…it worked, rather well.

    It worked for this meeting;  frankly given the content of some meetings, this trick can make a meeting that bit more interesting and can get results.  However, I would imagine that it’s not everybody’s preferred modus operandi.  But still, it has done something good for the meeting, therefore is it really such a bad thing?

    Is it rude?  For me, during a small team/group meeting, laptop users really should be note-taking only.  If you’re at my meeting and are doing other work, that’s rude.  At industry events with wireless access, well, I’d like to think laptop users were blogging/Twittering live…in which case I have no problem with it!

  17. HeatherLeigh says:

    I don’t think its a bad thing if the IMs are about the meeting content. But in the article, I don’t think that is what they were talking about mostly.

    So if the IMs about the meeting are good, but you don’t like computer use in your meeting, then how do you know if someone in your meeting is taking notes, IMing about the meeting or surfing the web? Part of the problem is that people can’t tell what you are doing and whether it’s necessary.

  18. Tim says:

    I have to bring my laptop into my morning meeting because I’m the one (hooray for me) who has to flag down everyone for their Hot Calls (that client/Talent who can’t wait for the meeting to be over). I do admit, just having the laptop available makes me wander into my day’s work while I’m trying to pay attention. And it’s not just because I have a slight case of ADD. Or maybe it is. That’s a tough one.

    Regardless, I try to leave my laptop out of my meetings. Otherwise, who knows where my mind will end up.

    I think the Be Present thing comes from the management book "Fish", BTW.

  19. HeatherLeigh says:

    I thought maybe it was because someone needed to let you guys know that the taco truck showed up.

  20. redi says:

    i agree. it is rude. if you’re too lazy to write notes with pen and paper (or on your blackberry) relearn the skill of using your memory.  it’s incredibly distracting in a meeting people tap tapping away. in regard to constantly being in meetings i’m sure it’s fine to excuse yourself if the content is not relevant i’m sure your boss wouldn’t mind you using your time wisely and if your business is organised surely someone is taking notes from these meetings / briefs and posting them somewhere where others can access them.

  21. Brad says:

    This issue peeves me off a little because we have this great, great, great app called oneNote and it is perfect, perfect, perfect for taking notes, setting reminders, action items, organizing, etc. IMHO, laptops in meetings are a reality of modern professional life. If someone gets annoyed by the noises laptop keys make when used, then I think the person has some issues with focusing…it’s really not that big a deal.

    I think the real issue with laptops is that people are concerned that the people using laptops are surfing the net, IM-ing, or checking mail. It is perfectly acceptable to ask at the beginning of a meeting that people only use their laptops for note taking.

    That said, my SVP is annoyed with laptops in meetings, so I tend to not use mine when meeting with him.

  22. HeatherLeigh says:

    Brad – some of us are distracted by the noise. Trust me, I would get over it if I could but it’s not something that is easy to block out. And when I really am trying to pay attention in a meeting, I just want the person to stop.

    OneNote is great when you are actually taking notes but rarely are the people with the laptops open taking notes. I do tend to take notes on paper. I know that’s very old school but I like my nice notebooks and my pen.

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